TOPS
Johnny Brenda's Presents

TOPS

Better Person

$13.00 - $15.00
Ages 21+
TOPS with Better Person at Johnny Brenda's in Philadelphia
  • 8PM - Doors
  • 9PM - Better Person
  • 10PM - TOPS

TOPS

The artwork for TOPS’ fourth LP sets the tone for the music enclosed. Inspired by the work of photographer Thomas Ruff, TOPS’ vocalist Jane Penney stares bare-faced down the lens – simple and un-posed, yet striking with starkness and vulnerability.

The image captures the fraught nature of being alive, which the 11 tracks on the album explore. Penny's remarkably expressive voice is front and center. On this record more than any other, she sings with passion and energy, without sacrificing the honesty and introspection that gives her voice its depth. The songs cover a range of experiences but at it's heart ‘I Feel Alive’ is a record about resilience, the ways we can grow from for our pain and the strength that comes from learning to stand on your own as an individual.

‘I Feel Alive’ is TOPS’ fourth full-length, following 2017's ‘Sugar At The Gate’ and follows singles "Echo of Dawn" and "Seven Minutes" from last year. Their trademark sound of beguiling melodies over soft-rock grooves, with touches of '80s sophisti-pop and a contemporary experimental palette is intact, but bolder and more expansive. The songs manage to be both immediately catchy and deceptively deep, with Penny's literary lyrics adding an extra dimension to the pure pop hooks. Satisfying yet far from predictable, this is a record to be savored, revealing itself slowly, gaining power and poignancy with each listen.

For ‘I Feel Alive’, the band members convened in a basement studio in Montreal, recording for the first time with keyboardist Marta Cikojevic who joined the band as a live member in 2017. “From the first time we practiced with her it was clear that we were in sync musically, and we found ourselves improvising together at the first rehearsal” says Penny. “Having Marta manning the keys allowed me to reach for my flute, and gave me the chance to integrate my flute playing with the writing process, using it as an expressive instrument rather than more production element which it has been in the past.”

She continues: “We'd spent a lot of time apart, not working on new stuff or touring, just living life, all in different cities," says Penny. When we went to make I Feel Alive we all had a good sense of what we were trying to do and a renewed energy towards playing together. The goal was to get in a room together and play, not holding anything back." 

"It was a quick process," says guitarist and fellow song-writer David Carriere. "We would work all day writing a song and then demo them the same evening, relying on our natural chemistry as a band to let the songs come into their own." The band’s line-up is completed by Riley Fleck on drums.

Title track "I Feel Alive" is a bracing pop gem with darker undertones. An ode to new love,

Penny sings "I feel alive looking in your eyes" with the exuberance that comes with the early stages of romance, the discovery of a deep love. But love is complicated, and within the joy and happiness is the pain of leaving someone else behind. "When I saw you wanted to spend the night with someone else at home," she sings, "I knew it wasn't right." This honest admission that happiness can come at the expense of others adds another dimension to the song's ecstatic energy. True love defies us to overcome others expectations, and that's a good thing. People may be watching, but why should you care.

Opposing and it, "Colder and Closer" is a sonic departure, with programmed synths and metallic drumming, the song shimmers. A tribute to seeking meaning in an increasingly confusing world Penny sings "Searching constellations/seeing if the stars align." But she doesn't take comfort in the stars, rejecting fate as something arbitrary, though not quite meaningless. "Signs are myths like nations/shapes drawn over crooked lines." The song is swift and lean, a pop confection, but it's also ripe with meditations on the social isolation that plagues casual intimacy. It's a prime example of the way TOPS layer meaning within pop songwriting.

Beneath the soaring melodies and crisp production, ‘I Feel Alive’ balances the giddiness of a new relationship with the agony of leaving old things behind. It's an introspective record that you can dance to, music that hits in an immediate rush but sticks around, lingering like the memory of a perfect doomed love affair-both the joy and the pain, until it becomes a part of your life forever..

BETTER PERSON

Better Person is the solo project of Adam Byczowski, a highly sensitive individualist who incorporates the DIY spirit into his work. He settled down in Berlin and released an album on which kitschy 80s pop, treated completely seriously, becomes a language exploited to talk about love, closeness, and vexation.

Byczowski was born in Sopot. For several years he played in Kyst, a post-rock band inspired by alternative folk. At the end of its existence, the band was a trio with two drum sets and a guitar (played by Byczowski), capable of setting off intimate ballads with huge discharges of energy. Before Byczowski joined the band, Kyst was vocalist and guitarist Tobiasz Biliński's solo project; this was when the EP Tar was released. The subsequent albums, recorded in the new, three-person line-up, Cotton Otuch (2010) and Waterworks (2011), featured numerous luminaries of the Polish independent scene, such as Maciej Cieślak, Marcin Ciupidro, Macio Moretti, Karolina Rece, Peve Lety, and Tomasz Ziętek. Today, similarly to Byczowski, Bliński is building an international solo career – using the name Coldair.

Byczowski has also played in Pictorial Candi, the band of Candelaria Saenz Valiente (Marcin Masecki's wife), and Enchanted Hunters, with the groups of Maciej Cieślak, Olivier Heim, or Sean Nicholas Savage. Byczowski played guitar on the latter artist’s album Bermuda Waterfall. He also performed together with the Canadian bands TOPS and Timber Timbre during their concerts.

In the autumn of 2011, Byczowski and the musicians of Indigo Tree (a group which had been recently disbanded at the time), Peve Lety and Michał Kupicz, released the EP Among Shores under the name Someone Who’s Not You. Byczowski, Biliński, and Michał Biela from Kristen have also formed the band Small Things. Having moved to Berlin, Byczowski recorded the single Sentiment in 2015, forerunning the solo album that was to be released under the name Better Person.

In February 2016, the six-song vinyl EP It’s Only Sou was published. Naturally, Byczowski wrote both the music and the lyrics himself and recorded all of the entire material at home. The choruses were sung by Sean Nicholas Savage, with whom Byczowski has played a great number of concerts; they also created an intriguing cover of Chris Isaak’s Can’t Do A Thing (To Stop Me). It’s Only Sou was released by the Berlin label Mansions and Millions. Byczowski emphasised that songwriting is the most important thing for him, and right after comes singing.

The debut album of Better Person comprises songs built around vocals and synthesisers, yet much warmer than in the case of Coldair. Byczowski bases his music on aesthetics strongly resembling the 80s and the cheesy ballads very popular at the time. When he yearningly sings ‘I need somebody / somebody that really cares’ in Somebody Cares, all that is missing is a saxophone taken straight from Lily Was Here by Candy Dulfer or Careless Whisper by George Michael. The dreamy songs of Better Person excellently exploit the tension between distance and honesty. They are quite atypical of the Polish music scene, as nobody before has had the idea to treat the music of the 80s (a time when Germany or Sweden seemed like exotic land to Poles) completely seriously. It is easy to use the means and sounds from that period, but writing such good songs and escaping the trap of sentimentalism, which Better Person managed to do, is much more difficult. How did he achieve this? In one of his interviews, the musician explained:

"All the sounds on all the songs on the EP come exclusively from one old Korg keyboard. I didn’t really even modulate the presets. It gave the whole material a consistent sound. Also, I really like the idea of just using one instrument for the whole record. It gave me some limitations that ended up being very inspiring. When it comes to the arrangements and production, I really wanted the songs to have that ‘cheap’ sound of old TV show soundtracks or underground 80s pop records. The other important thing for me was to make the songs sound as European as possible. At the time I felt really tired of the North American pop sound and wanted to escape it and at the same time try to underline the fact that I am from where I am. I believe that there is a specific kind of sensitivity that you can only hear in some of the Central and Eastern European recordings (especially the ones from the 70s and 80s)."

As Better Person the artist has toured the USA and Canada; he's also played in the Netherlands, Germany, and Great Britain. He performed at Eurosonic festival, gave four concerts at Pop Montreal in 2015, and eight at SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, in 2016.

Venue Information:
Johnny Brenda's
1201 N. Frankford Ave
Philadelphia, PA, 19125